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CVS CEO: It’s a "contradiction" to help people be healthier and sell tobacco products

CVS CEO on banning the sale of tobacco 04:22

CVS, one of the country’s largest pharmacy chains, will stop selling cigarettes and all tobacco products at their more than 7,600 stores on October 1, 2014. It is the first national chain of pharmacies to make that decision.

 Tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable death in the United States and the government says it kills more than 480,000 Americans each year. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services more than 42 million people in the country smoke and 16 million current and former users have smoking-related illnesses.

President and chief executive officer of CVS Caremark, Larry Merlo, joined “CBS This Morning” to discuss why his company made this decision. He explained that the decision was based on helping improve their consumer's health.

“There’s a growing focus and emphasis on healthy outcomes, managing chronic disease and, by the way, more than half of all Americans today suffer from one or more chronic diseases as well as a focus on controlling and reducing health care costs,” he said.

Merlo told the co-hosts that they believe that banning these products “is the right decision” for their company even though they generate $2 billion in tobacco and related sales.

“It positions us for future growth and the opportunity to play a bigger role in our evolving health care system,” he said.

Merlo explained to the co-hosts how he justifies eliminating such a massive source of revenue from his company.

“It’s my job at the CEO to ensure that we’re positioning the company for not just short term success, but long term success,” he said. “We’re evolving into more of a health care company and we’re doing many things. We have 26,000 pharmacists and nurse practitioners, who are helping millions of patients across the country everyday, manage conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes - all conditions whose effects are worsened by the impact of smoking.”

When asked if the board of his company were concerned about losing the revenue, he said that that there were “a lot of discussions” among the management team.

“I think everybody came to the right the decision. It’s a real contradiction to talk about all the things we’re doing with people to help them on their path to better health and at the same time sell tobacco products,” he said.

Merlo said that he had not heard opinions from other drug store executives on CVS’ decision to ban tobacco products and said that those competitors will need to make their own decisions.

“I would hope that they would look at the role that their pharmacists and pharmacies are playing and do what we did in terms of looking in the mirror, asking those questions and hopefully make the right decision,” he said.

After Merlo made his comments on "CBS This Morning," Walgreen Co. released a statement saying,"We will continue to evaluate the choice of products our customers want."

The Journal of the American Medical Association released a report on ending the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies, saying that limiting availability is one of the leading ways to get people to quit smoking.  

“Seven out of 10 smokers say that they want to stop and about half attempt to quit each year and in the Spring time frame. We’re going to be announcing a national smoking cessation program across all of our CVS pharmacies and minute clinics,” he said. “We want to help those people achieve that goal and help put them on their path to better health.”

President Obama put out a statement on Wednesday applauding the company’s decision to stop selling tobacco products.  

“CVS Caremark sets a powerful example, and today's decision will help advance my administration's efforts to reduce tobacco-related deaths, cancer, and heart disease, as well as bring down health care costs,” he said.  

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